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indianness in Nissim Ezekiel

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  NDIANNESS IN NISSIM EZEKIEL‟S POETRY  Indianness / Indian sensibility is neither an issue to be debated with reference to the writings in various vernaculars in India nor with various literatures of the world such as American, Australian, Canadian, British etc. When we study W B Yeats and T.S.Eliot, we talk about the Irish sensibility in Yeats or American influence in Eliot and so on. So the „Irrishness‟ or the Americanness does not become an issue here. However the moment we speak about the reflection of Indian sensibility /experience, we start analyzing it in terms of Indianness. of the literary critics and scholars are aware that when Columbus wrote his famous letter (1493) to king Ferdinand only to report on his progress of his voyage the American literary historian(s) noted it down as the beginning of the literary tradition. The matter lies here that there is a need of particular tradition for the writers writing in English, particularly in India, which is obvious to belong to. The simple truth about the expression of a collective sensibility in Literature or an Art form of a nation is that it is present there as an integral part of a writer‟s/artist‟s inner equipment and total personality. So we are concerned here with the problem of an independent identity of our (English) writing in India. Indianness is the soul of Indian writing whether in English or in any other language. Presence of India, even in its absence, can be felt in Indian writings. The writers and poets often deal with Indian cultures, myths, events ,experiences and relationships in their literary work of art. Nissim Ezekiel‟s contribution as a poet in Indian writing in English is verysubstantial and valuable. Being a Jewish, his family had long ago migrated to India and settled down in Mumbai. Nissim Ezekiel was born in Mumbai. As being lived for long time in India, his poetry contains some of the aspects of Indianness. This paper is an attempt to find out how Nissim Ezekiel has beautifully used Indian experiences what we (some of us may) call Indianness from his poetry. Ezekiel was born and brought up in Mumbai, and got educated in Mumbai. Besides some trips to various foreign countries, he has lived, worked and earned his livelihood in Mumbai. Therefore, the crucial point here is that as a poet, he has observed and experienced much of Indian life very closely. Indianness lies in Ezekiel‟s commitment to this country and in his earnest and sincere desire to bring about some improvement in the conditions of life in this country through his poetry. Therefore we should appreciate the poet‟s desire for this country to  the extent of wanting to bring about certain improvements in the depressing, degrading and disgusting conditions of life in this country. For instance, Ezekiel is able to depict a picture of poverty in his poem „The Truth about the Floods‟. “I have not eaten for three days My husband has been washed away My parents have abandoned me My son is dying I can not find my daughter”.  The desire to see better conditions of life in this country contains degree of patriotism; and in Ezekiel‟s case it certainly shows his love for the country of his adoption. Another poem „Background, Casually‟ in which Ezekiel has proclaimed his commitment to this country:   „I have made my commitments now.  This is one: to stay where I am, As others choose to give themselves In some remote and backward place. My backward place is where I am‟.    Ezekiel‟s poetry contains various aspects of Indianness. Indianness is a vital element in Ezekiel‟s thought, feeling and image ry. Indianness has become one of the major themes of Ezekiel‟s poetry, which he treats as an intense personal exploration. The poem like „Night of the scorpion‟ and „Edinburgh Interlude, Lightly‟, where, the thought and feeling are supported by the surrounding atmosphere and characters in the poems which are purely Indian and they follow the Indian way of life. For instance, in the poem „Night of the Scorpion‟ Ezekiel narrates the incident of an Indian village woman stung by a scorpion in the rainy night. T he speaker‟s mother was stung by a scorpion one night. After stinging her, the scorpion had swiftly moved away from her and gone out into the rain, though it was because of the rain that it had come into the house. Then the peasants in the neighbourhood, on learning about a woman having been stung by a scorpion, had come to the woman to express their sympathy. Through the beautiful portrayal of the superstitions and motherly sympathy of particular Indian village, the poet mirrors the credulous nature of the rural behav iors, they say: “May he sit still, they said  May the sins of your previous birth be burned away tonight, they said. May the poison purify your flesh of desire and your spirit of ambition”.    And after when it loses it‟s stung after twenty hours,   mother‟s response is most touching, she says:   “Thank God the scorpion picked on me and spared my children”.    Another poem „Edinburgh Interlude - lightly‟ is also about a typical Indian situation/ context. It deals with the traditional rivalry of the daughter-in-law and mother- in-law.The poem depicts the situation when the daughter-in-law who has just come from her honey-moon. The following lines describe the typical Indian situation, where mother-in-law says: “Don‟t worry, dear,  I need no help in the kitchen. Leave it to me, please”.  But then she complains to her own son and her husband (father-in-law) that the girl does not help her in the kitchen. After this, father-in-law says to daughter-in-law: “You must try to understand your Mother  -in-law. She‟s a very   kind woman, you know.There aren‟t many who do   all the work in the kitchen”. Then the son replies to the bride,   “If you quarrel with my mother,you quarrel with me”.  Nissim Ezekiel vividly describes the extensive poverty and ugliness of India, especially in big cities.  A poem entitled „The Railway Clerk‟ reveals the pathetic condition of the a poor railway clerk. He represents the pathetic condition of many middle class people. The railway clerk says: “It isn‟t my fault I do what I‟m told but still I am blam ed. This year, my leave application was twice refused”.  Even though he carries out the orders, yet he is criticized. And that is not his only grievance; his leave application was twice rejected in the course of the year.  “My wife is always asking for more money.Money, Money where to get Money?” His wife always demands more money to meet the household expenses and he does not understand how to get this additional money .And his duty is such that no one offers him bribes. In a way poet wants to throw light on the „corruption‟ in Government offices. As we know, corruption is one of the major problems in India. He also adds that there is no prospect of his getting any promotion as he is not a graduate. “I am living far off in Borivali, My children are neglecting  studies, How long this can go on?”Thus, the railway clerk symbolizes poverty of India. The clerk represents the pathetic condition of many Indian poor people. It seems to be a realistic poem. The language used in Nissim Ezekiel‟s poetry reflects the India nisation of English language. There are, first of all, the poems in which he has ridiculed the manner in which a large number of Indians use the English language, making mistake of grammar, syntax, idiom and tense. Ezekiel has focused upon one of the major grammatical mistakes which a large amount of the Indians most often make; i.e. the use of present continuous tense instead of simple present tense. “I am doing my duty, but who is appreciating?” Use of present continuous tense in place of simple present t ense is very common in India. And Ezekiel deliberately uses this language to present a view of the Indian mind. Conclusion: To conclude, I would say that Nissim Ezekiel has beautifully used the long history of Indianness as the socio-cultural identity, its different expressions, and its rich variety in his poetry. Therefore, C. P. Verghese‟s definition is quiet expressive. He says:   “What I mean by Indianness in Indian writing in English, is the sum -total of cultural patterns of Indian and the deep-seated ideas and ideals-political, economic, secular and spiritual-that constitute the mind of India” Thus, Nissim Ezekiel has skillfully used most of the aspects of Indian life and cultures in his poetry.

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Jul 25, 2017
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